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Could LeBron James Return to Stomping Grounds for Final Act?

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James at Cleveland Cavaliers game

For people that don’t believe in coincidences, LeBron James’ appearing on the sidelines during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ throwdown with the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals is a sign in and of itself. However, when factoring in that —of the thousands of pictures that Bronny James must have with him and his mother— his son chose to post a photo of himself in an Ohio State Buckeyes jersey just the day before, that signs became a green light at the end of the dock.

Like Jay Gatsby longing for the love and innocence of his youth, could James end his storybook career where it all began?

At 39 years old, James is only expected to play two or three more seasons. He’s already played longer than all but five players in NBA history with 21 years of NBA experience. In 2024-25, he’ll join Vince Carter as the only two players in NBA history to play 22 seasons.

With that said, the question is where would James would like finish his playing days? To clarify, we’re not talking about a ceremonial one-day signing that allows him to retire wherever he wants. We’re talking about how he wants the final years of his career to be remembered.

Could LeBron James Return to Stomping Grounds for Final Act?

Los Angeles Lakers president Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka are determined to have James retire in L.A., where he would join a long list of star players to do so.

However, much like his stint with the Miami Heat, James’ tenure in L.A. has had more fluff than substance. Sure, James may have developed deep bonds with a couple of teammates and executives. Nonetheless, James isn’t embraced by the fanbase anymore than he would be on 28 other teams. A championship that he delivers to the organization allows them to add to their trophy case but it doesn’t strum their heartstrings.

That isn’t the case with the Cavs and it never has been.

Home State Hero

A home state hero, James is originally from Akron, OH. A quaint town located less than an hour south of Cleveland, Akron is where James became ‘the Chosen One.’ Starring for a Catholic prep school, St. Vincent-St. Mary, the basketball prodigy led his team to three titles. In that time, he was named Ohio Mr. Basketball three times and the Gatorade National Basketball Player of the Year twice.

Leaving high school for the draft, it was all but inevitable he would land with the Cavs. This is largely due to the fact that he was a local legend earning comparisons to the mythical Michael Jordan. However, Cleveland essentially ensured they would be in position to draft James by trading Andre Miller, Wesley Person, and Lamond Murray —their three top scorers —before the 2002-03 season. In 2002-03, the Cavs went 17-65, consequently landing the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.

The rest is history.

Leaving a Legend, Returning with Rings

James spent his first seven seasons with the Cavs, quickly ascending to superstardom. Winning a pair of MVP awards and becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer at just 24 years old, he led Cleveland to five straight playoff appearances. While he only had one NBA Finals appearance during this time, he was arguably already an NBA legend.

However, the fanfare heightened the hype surrounding James as much as the pressure. In 2010, a disgruntled James left the Cavs for the Heat, looking to win his first NBA championship. Cavs fans were crushed by his decision, the type of hate that can only manifest for someone that was once beloved.

This was proven when James returned to Cleveland in 2014. In Miami, he may not have accomplished his loftiest goals, but winning two titled in four years is no small feat. Coming back to the Cavs as a champion, James showed Cleveland what he had learned while he was away.

Taking the Cavs to the NBA Finals every season, James became the first player to make eight straight trips to the NBA Finals. He’s the first player in 52 years to accomplish the feat. He’s the only one to do so while playing for multiple teams. In 2016, James also became the first player to come back from down 3-1 in the NBA Finals. That unforgettable feat resulted in Cleveland winning their first championship in franchise history.

Not Entirely Unexpected

James earned so much goodwill in his second stint with the Cavs that when he left again in 2018, fans didn’t feel betrayed. They were appreciative. There isn’t a Cavs fan who was around at the time that doesn’t fondly remember how he casually destroyed the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs. His game-changing defense in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals brought tears to their eyes.

James leaving for Miami was a bit like the city’s favorite son going to college. Because of the animosity “The Decision” triggered, it didn’t feel like it though. When he flew off to Los Angeles, it was like a small-town kid leaving for a lucrative job in the big city. However, it never really felt like that was where James would retire, even before the Lakers’ Hollywood-level drama.

To that point, a few people are anticipating James’ return to Cleveland.

What Would a Trade Look Like?

A deal sending James back to Cleveland could be as simple as sending Darius Garland and Caris LeVert to L.A. in exchange for James.

With Garland plateauing (if not regressing), the Cavs would likely be willing to make such a deal. The impact between Garland and James in terms of both scoring impact and leadership is substantial. This isn’t to say Garland isn’t a star-caliber player. He’s just more Steve Nash than Luka Doncic, his slight frame and lack of aggressiveness limiting his offensive upside despite his ball-handling and passing ability. Due to Donovan Mitchell’s own playmaking, Garland’s becomes even more expendable.

L.A. could find use for Garland, especially if they retain star big man Anthony Davis. He doesn’t quite fit Cleveland’s needs at this juncture. On an expiring contract, LeVert may be trying out for a long-term with the Lakers. An x-factor as a jack of all trades with the potential to be a featured scorer, L.A. could start him or bring him off the bench. They could also try to flip him (and perhaps Garland) for another star.

Meanwhile, James will find himself leading a team not unlike the ones he had in Miami. Mitchell has often been compared to his former teammate, Dwyane Wade, due to their size and explosiveness. Evan Mobley, more meek than even Chris Bosh, is a versatile big man capable of stretching the floor. Those traits helped the Heat become a powerhouse, with James and Wade taking advantage of the space Bosh provided. Like Bosh too, Mobley is capable of guarding players in the paint or in space. However, he’s even better at both.

Could the Cavs Draft Bronny?

Basketball is poetry. What better way is there for James to end his career than with the best of both worlds? Back in the state where it all started. Leading a Big 3 eerily similar to the won he won his first championship with.

The answer: With his son.

With the 20th overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, the Cavs are in prime position to draft Bronny James. After an unexpectedly unsuccessful freshman season at USC, his draft projections were all over the place. However, he was a standout on Day 1 of the Draft Combine.

With teams also considering the financial incentive of drafting him, Cleveland is a natural landing spot.

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